I was on my way to Texas, and I didn’t have a media pass, an official badge, a wristband, or a proper RSVP to any SXSW event. I didn’t have a show booked in any proximity to Austin during that mess of musical madness, nor did I try to wiggle my simplistic acoustic set into any possible schedule.
Besides, there wasn’t any room in our packed sedan for my guitar; I surrendered its spot in the car last minute to make room for stranded DC performance artist Adrian Parsons, whom we ended up scooping up in Knoxville, on our way south by southwest. Did it bother me that I had no set plans or gigs lined up for SXSW? Somewhat, but as a fledgling musician and a developing music journalist, I felt that it would be much more appropriate to act as an observer for my first South By.
I went there with the intention to intake energy and to become inspired, as well as to be part of the convergence of kindred spirits, to mingle with unheard musical gems and diligent music lovers alike. I made the first step west, onto 66, and crossed the Key Bridge, and as I waved goodbye to my beloved Potomac River with the corner of my eye, my wonderful nomadic companion, Teaadora Nikolova coincidentally called me.
“I’m playing a SXSW show Sunday, and we might be able to fit you into the bill,” she notified me. As a stronger incentive, she threw in that members from the resurrected Baltimore psych-band Ponytail might also play. Too bad we planned to leave Austin by Saturday morning. Within an hour, the ever-optimistic Teaadora shot me another kind gesture, offering me a performance Tuesday evening at the House of 88 Showcase. Not knowing what that was, but completely trusting my instincts and Teaadora’s generous endeavors, I agreed. Besides, although the official music festivities didn’t start until later on in the week, Tuesday would be my first full day in Austin. What better way to start my SXSW then to take part in a DIY house show?
I looked forward to reuniting with Teaadora, whom I met through the failed Old Bridge fiasco, and an integral character from my summer tour with Hume. Teaadora was just one of the many musical friends that I anticipated to catch up with during the convergence of SXSW.
Not only did she coordinate and book the House of 88 kick-off show under the grace of tenant Raul, but she also filled in on drums for her friend Art, as well as played a set of her own.
As a last-minute addition to the bill, I felt blissed-out to share an evening of songs with a dear friend, as well as with an attentive audience.
When the audience is receptive, I feel like I have the potential to transmit myself in a much more smooth manner. And to play guitar outside, on a porch, in the sun and in a sundress, in March! It was quite magical.
Following my folk songs was Jascha Hoffman, a Casio-playing, drum-beat bruising crooner. “Anybody here from San Fran?” Jascha yelled out, as a possible homage to his hometown, or point of origin.
“Hell yeah!” a group from the audience replied. “Could you give me a lift back?” Jascha somewhat pleaded. Like Teaadora, Jascha was on the road, sharing his songs, as well as some Leonard Cohen covers, in true nomadic fashion. Soon after his set, Teaadora played a haunting collection of songs. Although she delivered her 2012 references and lyrics with a foreboding tone, there always seemed to be a resolution of love and true self inside of her songs. By the end of the evening showcase, Teaadora set aside her event coordination and performance tasks and took another moment to spread that ever-present joy of the present by leading a group dance during Knife Drop, past the golden sunset and reclining golden retrievers and through the lawn and garden of House of 88.
By 2 AM on Tuesday, I was ready to find some sleep. We had just spent an epic night at Lucy the Poodle’s Pre-SXSW Festivity at Cheer Up Charlie’s. The whole perimeter of the venue flooded with performers and attendees, and the event itself, like most SXSW shows, was a true test of endurance.
“Sorry we didn’t have time to catch up,” my friend, Chadwick said in an apologetic but understandable late-night text. His band The Armchairs had been completely caught up in the arrival stages of SXSW. They spent the day driving straight from one gig in Little Rock, Arkansas to Austin, only to play a quick indoor set at Cheer Up Charlie’s as their Philly acquaintance Ryat brought electric dance beats to an unmoving crowd in the back patio area.
Not to mention, a huge chunk of their potential audience became quickly distracted mid-set by an impromptu fire across the street between the Fast Folks bike shop and the Brocca Art Gallery.
“Another time,” I replied. “This place is chaotic. I mean, for example, I see a fire, a mustache see-saw, and a magical mystery machine, all in one view.”
Despite drastic distractions, overlapping sets, and the inevitable drunken turn of the night, performers carried on well into the night, indoors, outdoors, out front, and in the back at Cheer Up Charlie’s, such as Megafona (video shot by Adrian Parsons). Most likely immune to the hectic jumble of SXSW, Austin local My Empty Phantom proved to be a musical siren and went with the flow, letting his live ambient music blend together with the visual and audible fleeting chaos across the street.
At a certain point, my friends decided to head out and call it a night. We had a few more days of music to look forward to. But as we walked off to the car, we kept coming across live music. In particular, we became enchanted by this group of buskers, whom sang to us whilst playing accordions, ukeleles, and spoons.
We sat down next to them in a field to listen in on their songs, and during a break, I asked if they were playing elsewhere during the festival. “No,” one of them replied. “We just came here, to be here, because it felt right.” And from that busker’s confident statement, I knew that I couldn’t agree anymore.